The new normal for people with disabilities

This year has been full of changes and new normals for everyone.

However, for people with disabilities and pre-existent mental health issues, the pandemic has caused a more stressful and challenging environment. As a school community that caters to the needs of a diverse range of students, being aware of the difficulties our peers go through in this pandemic is crucial to better understand each other.

In a new expectation to wear masks in public settings and at the workplace, people with hearing disabilities struggle to use their customary lip-reading skills to effectively communicate with others. Although wearing a mask is definitely a beneficial safety precaution to protect the health of all, those with hearing disabilities are at an increased disadvantage in terms of communication.

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A CBC article written by John Watters titled “How COVID-19 is unmasking my hearing loss,” raises the concern of the dismissal of hearing loss as an issue when policy decisions about masks were made. The article emphasizes the need for accommodation for people with hearing disabilities.

“But they have hearing aids, shouldn’t their hearing be normal?”

A common misconception that many people have is that hearing aids makes hearing at a “normal” level. It is a tool that helps people with hearing disabilities hear better, but far from what most perceive as making hearing “normal.”

Well, how can we accommodate for hearing disabilities? Clear masks are an available option for those in a workplace environment that are aware of people with hearing disabilities working alongside them.

Policy makers should be having this discussion and be made aware of the daily struggles that people with hearing disabilities experience on a daily basis and figure out an accommodation that caters to their needs. Having this conversation and using social media to raise awareness is the best way you can spread the word!

Hearing disabilities aren’t the only disabilities that haven’t been accommodated for. People with developmental disabilities and Autism have struggles even more so with the changes posed by the novel coronavirus. Routine and consistency are a strong contributing factor to people with developmental disability and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Quarantine definitely disrupted the routines of many.

Physical activity and enjoying the outdoors is immensely beneficial for people with developmental disabilities and ASD, as it aids in the reduction of behavioural problems and aggression behaviour, according to a scholarly article by Erkan Yarimkaya and Oguz Kaan Esenturk titled “Promoting physical activity for children with autism spectrum disorders during coronavirus outbreak: benefits, strategies, and examples.”

People with developmental disabilities who reside in group homes and other group facilities have been restricted from visitations from family. Even as Ontario opens its businesses and public settings, those in most group homes are continued to be limited from outdoor excursions and family visitations. Not being able to understand that the world is in a pandemic and that the changes that surround them are for their health safety, negatively impacts their mental health and increases behavioural aggressions.

Limited comprehension of the changes that are happening around you, having to be restricted from seeing your loved ones, and the only routine that accommodates you is something a lot of us can’t begin to imagine, and I couldn’t begin to imagine either. However, we are not called to imagine. We are called to empathize, understand, and bring awareness. Understand that the pandemic has impacted a diversity of people in various ways. Take the time to inform yourselves and others around you of changes people in our communities are facing so that understanding one another is no longer a hardship but the new “normal.”